The Barbra Schlifer Legal Clinic and Ontario's Independent Legal Advice Project.

AuthorMatto, Deepa

In the last few years, we have witnessed a revitalized global movement to challenge the status quo and demand that institutions that are perpetuating the deleterious effects of patriarchy be dismantled. We have seen a mass collective of women from Canada, the United States, Paris, Brazil, India and even Iran take to the streets demanding the end of sexual and other forms of violence and coercion against women.

What has allowed women to come forward and challenge this status quo? #Metoo and #Timesup.

This is not the first time women have publicly come forward to talk about the issue of violence, and sexual violence in particular. Much of these movements are a continuation of the feminist activities we saw in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In June 2016, Ontario's provincial government, as part of its plan called It's Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, rolled out a pilot program to provide free, independent legal advice (ILA) to survivors of sexual assault in Toronto, Ottawa and Thunder Bay. This program offers up to four hours of free advice to survivors. Within the Greater Toronto Area, one of the organizations to provide ILA is the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic (the "Clinic")--the only clinic in Canada that offers trauma-informed, wrap-around services to women survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Clients who access the Clinic can take advantage of its legal, counselling and interpretation services. The Clinic's participation in the pilot has been tremendously successful. Not only has the Clinic seen a significant increase in clients since the launch of the program, but it has also supported law firms and gender-based social services in assisting survivors in sexual assault situations.

Since its introduction, the ILA program has supported hundreds of clients understand their legal rights as survivors of sexual violence. Because of the program's success, before the Ontario government changed hands, the province-wide expansion of the program was announced. More Ontarians would benefit from the announced expansion of this program and, in a best-case scenario, more women would be able to access services in spaces similar to the Schlifer Clinic, where women feel safe. As legal professionals and advocates wait with baited breath for an update on the future of ILA, access to the program's services currently remain available for all three pilot sites through service vouchers and direct service at...

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